SPRINGVILLE — The Springville-Griffith Institute School District budget will focus on surviving the 2014-15 school year with limited resources, limited state aid and increased pressure from New York state to stay beneath the state-imposed property tax cap, before an even tighter 2016-17 budget threatens to push the district off the fiscal cliff.
S-GI Superintendent Paul Connelly presented the board of education with his budget recommendations for 2014-15 at the April 7 regular meeting, calling it “no surprise.
“We’re going into 2014-15 with our fingers crossed. We used to talk about sustainability. Now, we’re talking about survivalship. We’ve prepared well, over the past few years, to get ourselves where we are now.”
He said that the new budget is aligned with the Comprehensive District Education Plan, with a continued focus on education goals. The budget also allows for a social worker, who was already working but not budgeted, in this past cycle; a grant writer; a stipend for a transportation supervisor and monies for the Family Support Center.
“Holy smokes, is that baby taking off,” Connelly said, of the center. “We can’t lose that baby.”
In the area of staff, the budget will eliminate one special education teacher, one special education aide and add one kindergarten teacher and one curriculum coordinator.
In expenses, the Board of Cooperative Education portion stands at $2,041,420, which is significantly higher than last year because of a several-year abeyance that has come due, to pay for capital improvements at BOCES campuses.
“The party’s over, kids,” Connelly said, of that funding. “Our kids go to those campuses and it’s our responsibility to make sure our kids have [those] facilities to go to every day.”
He also noted that all lines are held at zero for equipment and supplies, which is “as tight as we can afford to get,” and that the district is “beating averages around the state,” in terms of staff benefits. Debt service continues to stay even, since the district is “in a little bit of a bubble” before a capital project is instituted.
“For any of us that drive through our parking lots, we know that we need new lots,” Connelly said. “Our high school gymnasium is not at regulation and ... we’re way behind in facilities, here.”
In revenue, the district saw a $635,000 increase in state aid, since New York state reinstituted a portion of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, after political pressure from school districts and advocacy groups, statewide.
“It’s important to note that we’re still lacking $1.8 million in GEA, $13 million from 2010-13. Do we appreciate a little bump? No question about it; it does not put us so deeply into the hole, when it comes to dipping into those reserves. But it’s not enough.”
The superintendent recommends a 3.02 tax levy, or $470,000, which the district would not need a super-majority to pass. That leaves a budget gap of $1,607,931 for 2014-15, which will go up to $3,460,612 in 2016-17.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, next year,” Connelly said. “That’s unsustainable. We have got to go to the [property tax levy] cap. If we don’t, we’re painting ourselves into a corner. If we don’t, the shorter time we will last.”
Business Administrator Ted Welch noted that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed a tax rebate check to districts that did not exceed the tax cap, which Connelly called “incentives to people to fight against their school districts to appease the governor.”
“My biggest concern is, New York state was recently voted No. 1 for all taxes. The governor makes no effort to impact use taxes, like sales tax and instead, he’s going out of bounds to limit what this board can do, to raise money. We’re a lot more dependent on state aid and property tax, and the cap is limiting our ability to fund our school how the community wants us to fund it. All the governor is really doing [with the tax incentive] is setting us up for a great deal of failure, down the road.”
Welch also noted, in response to questions from Board Member Joan Kelly about salary projections for staff, that he had “looked at every staff member on the roster right now and projected step increases through 2015-16; 2016-17, in some cases.”
Kelly’s other most significant concern was the proposed curriculum coordinator, who would help streamline the CDEP process and take some of the burden off the administrative team that is currently working on curriculum development and other related tasks. She noted that many of the tasks the coordinator would do are already handled by administrators, and wondered whether the district could redistribute those.
“The purpose of adopting this is saying that we’re ready to invest in a curriculum coordinator; it’s not a position creation,” Connelly noted.
Kelly referenced a report that had been done in 2005-06 that suggested the district use “continued, consistent focus” and a seven-year plan for curriculum development that was not followed.
“The shame of it is, had that been followed by the district, it would have been complete in 2013. I know the need and each and every one of [the administrators] have taken on additional responsibilities,” Kelly said. “From my perspective, the board of education has failed in the consistency and management of education, and that bothers me a lot. It’s a very important role for a board of education, and it has not been happening here. How is [the curriculum coordinator] going to be managed? Where is the follow-through going to be? We need a realignment of responsibilities and collaboration and follow-through. The way we’ve been going has created a constant spinning of wheels. CDEP has been reinventing the wheel.
“I’m not sold on it,” she continued. “In a year of belt-tightening, we need to balance out these responsibilities and keep our wheels from spinning.”
Board Member Jon Einarrson said that he “thought [Kelly] was in favor of it, until the end. That’s what this person does, create that follow-through and that focus.”
Connelly noted that the coordinator would work hand-in-hand with him, the board and the CDEP committee, but that the need is there for leadership. The position would not be created until July 1.
“If this is approved, I don’t want someone wet behind the ears,” Kelly continued. “If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it right. It’s not how fast you can do something; it’s how efficient you can do it. What scares me, is approving for taxpayers to spend money for something that hasn’t been defined.”
Board Member Kara Kane said that she believes “we have a lot of experts on staff who know our students, know our district, know our curriculum and we want someone to come in and be able to mine those resources. We need someone to coordinate.”
“That is critical,” Kelly agreed. “That has to be consistent, transparent, honest and focused.” She added that she hoped the positions that were vacated by nine teachers, earlier in the process, would be filled by “not the least expensive, but the best.”
Welch assured the board that the district looks for the “most qualified people, and then we see if we can afford them. I will do the very best I can to make sure we can find the money in the budget to get the best people I can.”
Kane noted that “as we’re scaling back on equipment, let’s make sure we’re not being penny-wise and pound-foolish and not depriving kids of the physical resources they need.
“It sounds to me like we’re trying to maintain both quantity and quality,” she continued. “We shouldn’t be bare-bones going forward. How are we going to increase the quality of our education, when we have dwindling resources? I think it’s prudent not to be spending up to the limit.”
Kane added that, for example, she thought the district could cut some sports, extracurriculars and advanced placement classes, in order to focus on making the resources the district does retain as high-quality as they can be, for a dwindling student population.
“What it sounds like, is that we’re moving away from the [recommendations that came out of the] community conversation, on which we had been basing this budget process,” Connelly noted. “And if we do that, we’re going to have to make some tough choices. The board is going to have to be prepared to make choices that are incredibly unpopular. The money’s not in paperclips.”
In other board matters:
– During the public comment period, Springville resident Robert Rung, who graduated from S-GI 45 years ago, said that he thought that the way the board handles things is “way out of line.
“Hiring a curriculum coordinator is way out of line with the budget, if we may have to eliminate that person, next year,” he said. Rung also asked that the board “look out for people on fixed incomes,” when deciding on the property tax levy.
Springville resident Michael Connors announced that he will, once again, run for a seat on the board of education, citing accountability when supervising the people who work in the district and to the residents of the district as his mantra.
“Twenty years ago, we had great academics, sports and a music and arts program, which we have to protect, because the music and arts are our last thread of greatness,” Connors said. “I want us to be in the top 10 school districts. Everyone offers problems; we have to offer solutions. I want to set a standard. I can’t sit here and complain and not throw my hat into the ring to say that I’m willing to step up and take a seat at that table.”
– Connelly reported that vendors from a selection of math programs spoke to a committee, on behalf of their products. The district has not had a comprehensive, K-12 math program for several years.
“The recommendation was made to use the New York state modules for K-12,” Connelly said. “And I invite anyone who wants to see [this program] make an appointment to see how it works. Kids are doing things with these modules that, frankly, I was not sure they’d be able to do.”
– The board agreed to enter into a joint commodities bid with BOCES. That does not require the district to take advantage of that purchasing ability; just to allow BOCES to offer it to its member districts. The next meeting will take place on April 22 at 7 p.m. in the high school library and media center.